Know Your Lore: Illidan and the nature of sacrifice
I’ve sacrificed everything. What have you given?
The abrupt, angry question delivered by pretty much any Demon Hunter NPC you click on in game is admittedly harsh to hear. It’s also really easy to take offense to, particularly since Demon Hunters are the newest allies we have. But it’s a legitimate question when asked to anyone else on Azeroth – and yes, that includes Death Knights and Forsaken alike.
Because when a Demon Hunters says they’ve sacrificed everything, they mean it.
Illidan stands out as the first Demon Hunter – it was a title he earned some time after seemingly betraying the kaldorei during the War of the Ancients. He didn’t want to ally with Azshara and Mannoroth, he wanted to find a way to stop them both. The best way to do that was to infiltrate their ranks and figure out exactly what they were doing, and how to stop it.
The single best way to stop them from completing their plans was to use the Demon Soul, a powerful artifact, against them. But he couldn’t let them know that. And when he was presented to Sargeras, the leader of the Burning Legion saw what Illidan was planning – to steal the Demon Soul and bring it to the Legion – and was pleased. So pleased, in fact, that he gave Illidan a “gift” in return for his allegiance.
Illidan’s eyes were burned out of their sockets, and eyes of mystic fire were gifted in their place, allowing Illidan to see all forms of magic. In that moment, Illidan also saw the truth: The armies that the kaldorei were so desperately fighting were nothing more than a speck of the Legion’s true strength. The very universe itself was doomed … unless someone could find another way to fight them.
And Illidan had that way, conveniently gifted to him by the leader of the Legion himself.
That was absolutely not what Sargeras intended when he first gifted Illidan with spectral sight and knowledge. It was meant to be power for the creature that craved it. With any other creature on any other world, such a gift would be met with gratitude, and willing servitude. With that kind of power available for the taking, why wouldn’t you join the Legion?
I think part of the reason Demon Hunters are so effective against the Legion is that the Legion simply wasn’t expecting them. We’ve been told time and again that Azeroth is unique in the universe – and that seems to include the people living on it as well. We certainly surprised Algalon, who was shocked at our tenacity and our free will. Sargeras expected Illidan to take the bait and fall in line with the rest of the Legion, but Illidan didn’t bite. He didn’t fall for the offer.
Maybe it was his fascination with Tyrande. Maybe it was his stubborn journey to find some way to impress his fellow kaldorei. Or maybe he began to realize just what sacrifice truly was – giving something up. What did Illidan give up? The chance for a “normal” life. In her own way, Tyrande represents not so much a romantic ideal as she does an example of what that normal life could have been, had he been anyone else.
It wasn’t until ten thousand years later that Illidan was changed, twisted by the Skull of Gul’dan and transformed into a demon. In that form, Illidan was able to easily defeat Tichondrius and his forces … but earned the scorn of Malfurion and Tyrande in the process. He’d given up that which made him kaldorei, seemingly in favor of more power, and it disgusted them both.
Illidan lost everything he was, and became something far greater in return. And over the years, others came to him – those who had lost everything at the hands of the Legion. He took them in, taught them and trained them, and when the time came they went through a ritual similar to what he went through, only this time it wasn’t a gift from Sargeras, it was a sacrifice.
To become a Demon Hunter, they had to first defeat the demon that took everything from them. Once it was slain, they had to eat its heart and drink its blood. Every Illidari went through the same ritual, gouging out their own eyes at the sight of the Legion’s true strength – many perished in the process. But those that survived possessed heightened senses and strength, the kind of strength needed to battle the demon they willingly took within.
The truth of the Demon Hunter is this: They have nothing left to live for but vengeance. They’ve lost everything, and the only thing they cling to is the desire to take out that which destroyed everything they ever knew and loved. Illidan ushers them to a solution, a way to quench that thirst for vengeance, for the good of Azeroth. For the good of everything they can no longer have. Because once you take that demon spirit inside of you, there’s no turning back. You can’t remove it, it’s always there, whispering to you, tempting you with the Legion’s power. It’s a constant daily struggle, a walk along the fine line of sanity and madness.
Being a Demon Hunter is living with the distinct knowledge that no matter the outcome, there is absolutely no way you are coming out of this alive. These elves have turned themselves into the ultimate weapons against the Burning Legion, by using the Legion’s own power against it. They want to wipe the Legion from the face of the universe.
And they are well aware that in order to do that, the very last demons to be slaughtered, the very last lives to be snuffed out will have to be their own.
That’s what Demon Hunters mean when they ask what you’ve given. They know with utter certainty that there is no happy ending for them. They don’t get to go home when the war is over, they don’t get to resume some semblance of “normal” life. Sure, they may have speed and spectral sight – but the thing that brought them those gifts is the thing that has by all rights doomed them to certain death. The Legion will stop at nothing to destroy our world…but Demon Hunters? They’re willing to sacrifice everything to save it.
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